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R.C. Buford: Spurs ‘under the assumption’ Gregg Popovich will return

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Memphis Grizzlies v San Antonio Spurs Photos by Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images

In an interesting discussion of rumors that Gregg Popovich is the “first priority” of the Nets coaching search, Spurs GM R.C. Buford told CNBC’s Jabari Young that he’s “under the assumption” Pop will be back. But he noted as well the power of the Spurs collegial culture should not be dismissed ... no matter who comes or goes.

Young, who previously covered the Spurs for the San Antonio Express-News, recounted the conversation in a report filed on CNBC.com Sunday.

“Pop’s vision has clearly been our North Star,” he said. “However, having said that, when we get ready to make a decision, we all get in the room, and everybody needs to be prepared, and he doesn’t care who it is that gets the right answer, as long as we get the right answer.”

Asked about the Popovich to New York rumors, where former Spurs executive and current Brooklyn Nets GM Sean Marks could be seeking his services, Buford said the Spurs are “under the assumption” Popovich is returning.

Buford added, “Pop’s shown nothing other than how we’re going to build our team for next year.”

“That is the history and the legacy that we’re here to build from,” Buford said. “And from a vision standpoint, it’s not going to change a whole lot – values based, culture focused, community engaged, and championship driven.”

Buford noted as well the stability of the organization.

“Pieces change all the time – not much here but in other organizations,” Buford said. “Individual investors, for whatever reason, change all the time. But the Holt family’s commitment to the community, we’re here in San Antonio to stay.”

Popovich has been rumored as a priority of the Nets search the past several weeks, with Stefan Bondy of the Daily News, Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times and Shams Charania of The Athletic each pointing to the Nets high-profile coaching search, the Spurs’ failure to make the playoffs for the first time in 22 years ... and the lack of definitive denial by either side. Shams reported, “the first priority of the Nets’ coaching search has become clear: They plan to seriously explore the possibilities with Popovich.”

“Pop has a job; so I’ll say that,” Marks said on WFAN at the beginning of July. “And, obviously we all know he’s an amazing, amazing coach, and to be quite frank, an even better leader. So, I’ll let Pop continue to coach for the Spurs. He owes it to them and they owe it to him. I’m sure he’s quite happy there.”

For his part, when Popovich was asked this month about whether he’d return to San Antonio next season, he responded “Why wouldn’t I?”

The Spurs of course are in a rebuild and although Popovich has said he’s enjoyed coaching young players, he’s 71. Moreover, as Young notes, the Spurs physical infrastructure —the AT&T Center and its training facility— are among the most antiquated in the NBA. The San Antonio market also has the league’s lowest median income.

The relationship between Marks and Popovich of course goes way back. Marks won two rings, one as a player, one as an assistant coach, under Popovich and as the assistant GM of the Spurs when the Nets picked him to be their GM in 2016. In fact, there are as many as nine Nets executives who worked at one time or another under Popovich, including Marks, assistant GM Andy Birdsong, Jacque Vaughn and Vaughn’s lead assistant in Orlando, Bret Brielmaier.

“He’s a great friend of the whole family. We’ve been rooting for his success and the success of their group since he went,” Popovich said of Marks last year. “It’s obviously very positive and going in the right direction, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.”